The F-35B Joint Strike Fighter vertical takeoff and landing fighter aircraft has been in operation on the US Navy’s amphibious assault ships for many years, introducing an unrivaled capability to launch 5th generation air strikes from smaller ships without a runway. Complete, like the America-class amphibious assault ships.
The F-35B is the most sophisticated of the three F-35 variants in use today and requires unique engineering to reach unprecedented heights in vertical glide and takeoff.
A large “LiftFan” is installed in the front of the center fuselage of an F-35B, just behind the pilot, to provide tremendous downward force in the vertical plane. The Rolls Royce data describes a “spiral bi-level gear arrangement” that transfers power from the main engine to the LiftFan.
When combined with the LiftFan, this power creates the down thrust needed for “hovering” and landing in a straight line. For maximum downward airflow, an F-35B has what looks like a square door or opening at the top of the fuselage, behind the pilot, and above the lift fan.
The experts have broken down the tremendous force into four distinct steps that work together to push the plane past the sound barrier.
Both sides of the nose have air ducts that “pull” air into the engine. A controlled burst of flame is produced at the back of the vehicle by compressing and then igniting the air with gas. This process generates a force that allows the jet to accelerate, maneuver, and reach high speeds.
In order to execute STOVL, the F-35B’s lift fan component of the LiftSystem functions perpendicular to the airflow over the aircraft, according to technical information released by Rolls Royce, the F-35B’s engine manufacturer. According to Rolls Royce, the LiftFan can function in gusts of up to 288 miles per hour.
The arrival of the F-35B marks unprecedented support for combat power projection for amphibious operations, as the America-class amphibians were specifically designed to project new maritime air power projection dimensions.
The launch of an F-35B from America-class amphibious assault ships was made possible thanks to the Navy’s specific efforts to incorporate F-35B accommodations into the ship during its construction.
The air power projection with F-35B fighters and tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft introduces new tactical advantages for amphibious operations that could take advantage of unprecedented levels of close air support from the 5th generation F-35.
The additional Ospreys could also transport Marines to key landing zones in the event a beachhead is secured via amphibious assault.
The Osprey’s engagement radius of 450 nautical miles could allow greater standoff distances and still carry equipment, personnel, and weapons for land-based amphibious operations.
Of course, an F-35B can bring combat power to ship-to-shore offensives and introduce a drone-like measure of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), which is normally only possible with large aircraft.
The F-35B’s sensor suite has the potential to significantly broaden the battlefield for any strike mission, especially when used in a formation with other aircraft.
The F-35B outperforms its foreign rivals.
Furthermore, the F-35 already exists in large numbers and is at a late stage of operational maturity, potentially putting it well above its Chinese rivals when it comes to building air squadrons or large numbers of fifth-tier strike formations—grid-connected generation.
During the F-35B’s maiden operations, the Navy learned that some structural alterations were needed to ensure the 5th generation plane could successfully take off and land from the deck of USS America.
Specifically, the flight deck needed additional anti-slip materials to ensure it could withstand the heat of an F-35B vertical takeoff and landing.
The Navy also added reinforced structures at various locations below the deck as part of this adjustment. The non-slip material is designed to safeguard the flight deck so that it can withstand takeoff and landing without damage. After making a series of flights from Tripoli, the F-35B received its fixed-wing certification.
Revolutionize amphibious warfare
With its stealth technology, high-powered computers, and drone-like detecting abilities, the F-35B is set to revolutionize amphibious combat. Looking ahead, amphibious warfare is expected to look very different in the coming years as new technologies continue to shape concepts of operation.
Attacks are less likely to be linear on the beach, like the US Marine attack on Iwo Jima, but more scattered and dispersed, albeit facilitated by long-range sensors and precision weapons. The F-35B’s introduction has allowed amphibious operations to have stealthy close air support for the first time in history.
Support from F-35B aircraft would allow amphibious operations to move forward with precision fire from F-35 guns, air-to-air missiles, precision ground, and even longer-range air-dropped bombs, rather than just relying on suppressive fire from deck-mounted ships’ guns.
The F-35s could destroy entrenched ground-based guns intended to fire on attacking forces from the ocean and also seek out and destroy enemy land-based missile launchers. This type of multi-domain amphibious assault can make it much more likely that an attacking force will be able to set up and protect a beachhead for a coastal attack.
China wants a rival for the F-35B.
In spite of reports that China is hastily developing a carrier-launched variant of its fifth-generation J-31 aircraft to compete with the F-35B and F-35C in terms of power projection in maritime warfare, it appears that China’s armed forces do not currently possess or are developing a “vertical takeoff” capability.